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Convicted killer James Lee Crummel commits suicide before disclosing info in San Bernardino cold case

May 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A convicted killer who claimed he could lead police to the body of a murdered boy takes his secrets to his grave.

It's been almost two decades since 9-year-old Jack "J.D." Phillips went missing in Big Bear. In the days that followed a massive search for J.D., his father, Jack Phillips, remembers looking for his son.

"It was the most helpless I ever felt 'cause I didn't know what to do," said Phillips. "I didn't know what I could do up there."

Almost immediately, San Bernardino County Sheriff's detectives zeroed in on convicted child molester James Lee Crummel.

"After one of the initial detectives spoke to Mr. Crummel, he said 'Something's up with this guy,'" said retired sheriff's detective Jack Trotter.

Trotter was one of the detectives on the case in 1995. Now retired, he says he never forgot the case or the little boy.

"J.D. had witnessed his mom and stepdad in an argument the day he was missing. And so J.D. walked down to the Aspen Glen Park in a way to get away from the argument," said Trotter.

He says there was plenty of circumstantial evidence, but never any physical evidence to link Crummel to J.D.'s disappearance.

In 2004, Crummel, who had already been in prison for molesting other boys, was convicted of the 1979 murder of a 13-year-old boy whose body was found in Riverside County. Crummel was sentenced to death in that case.

Crummel had told prosecutors he would disclose where J.D.'s body was if they took away the death penalty.

"I think he just wanted to so-called have the power there to where he knew and we didn't," said Jack Phillips. "He was never going to tell."

Last week Crummel hanged himself inside his death row cell at San Quentin Prison.

"I was a little bit surprised. I kind of thought he was kind of an arrogant person," said Trotter. "I didn't think he would commit suicide."

J.D. has never been found and his disappearance remains a cold case.

Phillips said he's glad that Crummel is no longer in this world, but that his death did not bring closure. He said the only closure he ever wanted was to have his son back.

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